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Mitsitam Cafe features regional Native foods

WASHINGTON - The National Museum of the American Indian's Mitsitam Cafe (it
means "Let's Eat" in Piscataway) is a major helping of exposure for Native
cuisine, and a breakthrough opportunity for some Native food suppliers.

The cafe's cuisine, available at five permanent buffets as standing menu
items, is South American, Mesoamerican, Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast
and Great Plains. In terms of the palette, that means quinoa and wild rice
salads, buffalo chili, juniper salmon, tortilla and pumpkin soups, corn
tamales, tacos, turkey and cranberry, blue cornbread and quahog clam
chowder ... It means that many Indian luncheon meetings will take place at
the Mitsitam, and that many non-Indians will carry word of Native cuisine
into the mainstream.

The cafe is also an opportunity for many Native food suppliers. One that
has managed to capitalize is Intertribal Bison Cooperative. ITBC's Fred
Dubray said the organization has a contract with the museum to provide
approximately 5,000 pounds of buffalo meat every month, a considerable
market for the ITBC member tribes. But that may only be the beginning of
the contract's ultimate value. To have the good taste and health virtues of
Native-produced buffalo meat permanently served in the nation's capital is
certain to grow the market here and elsewhere. Already, Dubray said,
another nationally known D.C. institution has approached the cooperative
for all the buffalo hot dogs it can provide.

Another Mitsitam supplier has a similar but more complex story. Honest Tea
is not owned by Indians, but it is known for buying its teas from Native
producers wherever possible, and for working with them on capacity issues
when necessary. On occasion it also provides a percentage of its profit to
Native organizations, as First Nations Development Institute of
Fredericksburg, Va., and Pretty Shield Foundation of Billings, Mont.,
discovered some five years ago. Honest Tea's owners are firmly committed to
socially-responsible investing throughout the production process.

The bottled teas are a blend of light refreshing taste and low sugar
content, a great addition to Mitsitam's emphasis on healthy foods in the
fight against diabetes.